New Applications, Multiple Approaches

Increasing density in chips is no longer the only path forward.


It may be tempting to view the strong demand for semiconductors as just one more up-cycle in our traditionally cyclical industry, but what’s really driving things right now is the opening of entirely new horizons, made possible by the increased capabilities of today’s chips.

Chip demand is no longer only being driven by the needs of computer and smartphone manufacturers. Now, a mushrooming number of new and varied applications within many different industries is both creating demand and pushing chip technology in new directions. Therefore, while the traditional goal of developing faster, denser semiconductors remains very important, it is no longer the only path forward.

Key sectors
We see the following sectors as major drivers of semiconductor demand going forward, in addition to traditional computing and smartphone applications: sophisticated Internet of Things (IoT) applications; 5G and wireless networking; automotive; and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML).

In the IoT area, a high degree of sensing, processing and communications capability is increasingly being embedded into physical objects to bring “intelligence” – powerful data analysis and processing capabilities – to their operation. The goals are to improve performance, efficiency and cost, and to develop entirely new ways of solving problems.

For 5G and wireless networking, bandwidth requirements are becoming incredibly stringent so as to create more capable, reliable and secure networks. For example, while achieving just 50 milliseconds of latency in networking equipment was an impressive technical achievement not that long ago, it now seems almost quaint because projected requirements call for latency of 1ms or less for many networking applications.

Automotive electronics is another fast-growing area. The number of electronic devices in a car has skyrocketed from the introduction of the humble remote-entry key fob in the early 1980s. There is a growing need for advanced semiconductor processes, many of which combine RF and power-handling capabilities, to address widely varied automotive applications such as driver assistance, safety and infotainment systems.

AI and machine learning systems, meanwhile, generate vast amounts of data that can be exploited to achieve greater productivity, efficiency, quality and cost-effectiveness with less human intervention.

Multi-pronged strategy
Many of these new applications require chips that offer a good balance of performance, power consumption, flexibility and cost. GF’s 22FDX technology offers a major advantage in these high-growth sectors. It delivers powerful performance plus high energy-efficiency at a cost comparable to 28nm planar technologies, but at a 20% smaller die size and with 10% fewer masks than 28nm, and with about half as many immersion lithography layers required.

Moreover, software-controlled transistor body-biasing gives customers the ability to dynamically switch back and forth between high-performance and low-power operation. This enables them, for example, to optimize sleep and active operating modes. FDX technology also allows customers to easily integrate digital, analog, and RF functions onto a single chip for intelligent, fully integrated system solutions.

This technology is already being used for narrow-band Internet of Things (IoT) systems, blockchain development and bitcoin mining, geolocation, millimeter-wave automotive radar and AI/ML, among others. And it is complementary to ultra-high-performance finFET technologies which follow the path of Moore’s Law.

GF’s Dual Roadmap Redefines Mainstream

GF’s roadmap for advanced packaging solutions is another key approach. The needs for higher bandwidth, more storage and faster speeds mean that advanced packaging solutions must be used to maximize product performance and function. GF’s ASIC offerings are designed to leverage advanced packaging options which include single- and multi-chip modules and 2.5/3D solutions for seamless integration at the module level.

Looking forward
Traditional views of the future of chip technology have been up-ended as the use of semiconductors spreads into multiple new and growing areas. While it certainly remains critical to follow the path of Moore’s Law, that is now only one way forward. So 2018 should be a very interesting year indeed.

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